a tale of two statues

jesus wept

This statue is ambiguous. It’s a statue of Jesus. Thanks to angalmond’s comment on this bloggage I now know that it represents Jesus weeping and is in St Joseph Old Cathedral in Oklahoma City. It is opposite the Oklahoma City National Memorial and is a response to the bomb that killed and injured hundreds of people in 1995.

But to me it also looks like Jesus is doing a face-plant of incredulity. Both seem to be fair responses to my flawed attempts at being a follower of his. The Bible makes it clear that our actions affect God: we can cause him to experience sorrow.

I believe that when I get things wrong it doesn’t just affect me and those I love, it also creates a fracture in my relationship with God. It causes God distress. Jesus weeps because of it. I believe that there are times too when Jesus must do a metaphorical (or maybe literal) face-plant with some of the things I get wrong: responding like Homer Simpson: “D’oh!” or Victor Meldrew: “I don’t believe it!” (sorry if these culturally bound references don’t make sense to you).

Now, let’s be serious for a moment because I am not trying to trivialise this and I am sorry if you feel I have. The stuff that we call ‘sin’ is awful and has at its root a selfishness that elevates ourselves, our wants and our ambitions above those of God. It’s a subversive act that is a reversal of the true order of things. Whatever you think about the Garden of Eden narrative with Adam, Eve, a serpent and an apple* at its heart is the heart of the problem for each of us… it’s our story too – we displace God.

If I asked you to name the Ten Commandments I wonder how many you would get…

Adultery, murder, lying, theft… yes they are all in there.

Coveting, honouring parents.. yes there’s something about that too.

Keeping the Sabbath (ie resting once a week) is in there.

and then there are the ones about not making idols, not dishonouring God and having no other Gods.

If you analyse them they are all about putting ‘me’ before others and before God. I have boldified the first person in my explanations below to try to illustrate the point I made earlier:

Adultery is about satisfying my desires rather than honouring my commitments

Murder is saying my life is more important than someone else’s

Lying is based on the assumption that truth is less important than the reason why I lied

I steal because I want something that someone else has

Coveting (envy in action) happens because I am dissatisfied with what I have

Dishonouring parents happens when consider myself more important than them

Not keeping a Sabbath is saying that know better than my Creator about what my body and mind needs

Making idols is an act of rebellion against God to give myself or something else credit that is due to God and saying that in my opinion something or someone is worth more than him

Dishonouring God is more than being disrespectful, it’s a statement that don’t consider his reputation or character to be worth anything and by extension consider that my opinion of him is the one that matters

More often than not the breach of the ‘no other gods’ is because have put myself in that place – am in charge of my life thank you very much: an expression of the ‘I know better than God’ syndrome

So, if the Top Ten can be expressed in this way I reckon all other things that are sins have the same root: the first person singular. Me, myself, I…

Sin causes such sorrow to God because it’s a distortion and subversion of the way things should be – the optimal way in which he created things (and what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have redeemed) which is us in a relationship with him. It’s a denial of the relationship between me and him – the thing that he prizes more than anything else in Creation. And astonishingly we find through Jesus and his teaching that if we seek a ‘You’ relationship with God where we put him first he responds by making it an ‘us’ relationship with him.

So does Jesus weep and face-plant? Maybe not literally (or maybe so) but I can certainly create that response in him. But unlike the statue that represents that effect it doesn’t need to be the end of the story. Although statues remain static and unchanging the Good News is that we have another statue (Christ the Redeemer in Rio di Janeiro) that represents the open arms of God that long to embrace us when we return to him and reminds us of the extent of the love and what he did to restore the relationship that we have sullied. If we recognise that we have caused the first statue he offers to replace it in our relationship with the second one if that is what we want.


Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes, I know that it’s not specified as an apple

just 10

In our church we are participating the national Just 10 series at the moment. It’s a helpful way of looking at the Ten Commandments as God’s best plan for human living. The material we have been using is incredibly practical and has reminded me that God knew what he was doing all those years ago when the people of Israel were causing Moses a headache and God told him to take two tablets (b’dum pshh – (simulated drums and cymbal crash to mark punchline)).

It seems to me that the problem has been that we have taken the Ten Commandments at face value. We have seen them as a set of restrictions to limit what we can do, like a straightjacket on life. The natural reaction is to want to try to escape from the restrictions and break free.

Freedom is the state that God wants us to enjoy. But freedom without boundaries is either anarchy (where everyone does what they want without worrying about anyone else) or despotism (where I enforce my freedom over yours).

As I have explored the Ten Commandments again I have been reminded about how they are like the lines and the goals around a football pitch. If there were no lines and goals a football match would be impossible. Even the original mass brawls between villages from which football emerged as a game had goals! Because there are boundaries to the pitch we have freedom to express ourselves and enjoy the game fully. Because God has given us boundaries for life we have freedom to express ourselves and enjoy life to its fullest.

So, ‘Do not covet’ becomes, ‘Be satisfied with what you have’ – not a message that consumer culture wants to hear! ‘Do not lie’ becomes ‘be trustworthy’. ‘Do not commit adultery’ becomes ‘enjoy sex in a committed relationship’. And so on.
An oldie, but a goodie – I was reminded of this by a church member this week
Moses had been up the mountain with God negotiating the Commandments. The people watched anxiously from down below as they saw flashes of lightning and heard peals of thunder.

Eventually a weary-looking Moses came back down from the negotiations. “Comrades,” he said (for he was a Union man), “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I have got him down to ten. The bad news is that adultery is still in.”

>for best results…

>logoThis Sunday we are starting two new series in our services. In the mornings we are joining with lots of churches across the country looking at the Ten Commandments: Just10 and in our evenings we will be exploring the wonderful wisdom found in Ecclesiastes.

I have just finished the sermon for Sunday morning, which is looking at the tenth commandment – do not covet. It has been really refreshing, turning it on its head and considering what brings contentment. I won’t give you any spoilers here, but I am looking forward to the whole series and hope many people will be as blessed as I have been by it.

Ecclesiastes is an interesting book as well. It is found tucked away in the middle of the Old Testament (just next to Song of Songs) and is a reflection on the meaning of life. Not the Monty Python film, but looking at what makes sense in life. That’s going to be an exciting challenge too!

What I am being reminded of is that God’s ancient wisdom still makes great sense for us today. We may need to apply it differently to our cultural context, but the core truth is the same. For best results follow the Maker’s instructions.

For best results follow the maker’s instructions (but also ask what these people were on when they wrote the instructions)

On a bag of Fritos:
You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

On a bar of Dial soap:
Directions: Use like regular soap.

On some Swann frozen dinners:
Serving suggestion: Defrost.

On Tesco’s Tiramisu dessert: (printed on bottom of the box)
Do not turn upside down.

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding:
Product will be hot after heating.

On Boot’s Children’s cough medicine:
Do not drive car or operate machinery.

On Nytol sleep aid:
Warning: may cause drowsiness.

On a Korean kitchen knife:
Warning: keep out of children.

On a string of Christmas lights:
For indoor or outdoor use only.

On a food processor:
Not to be used for the other use. (Hmmmmm….)

On Sainsbury’s peanuts:
Warning: contains nuts.

On an American Airlines packet of nuts:
Instructions: open packet, eat nuts.

On a Swedish chainsaw:
Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands.

On a child’s Superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.